Build a Solar Cell

The Fun of Learning How to Make Solar Power

Did you know that you could learn how to build a solar cell right in your own kitchen? It takes but a few simple supplies and tools to make as many solar cells as you need to create the solar power you desire.

It's also easy to turn several solar cells into a solar panel, providing even more solar power for your home.

Supplies for Solar Cell Building

Build a Solar Cell

Supplies required are pretty basic and probably things you already have in your workshop. However, one item you'll need is a micro-ammeter. This isn't a typical tool in every workshop, so if you don't have one, visit your nearest home electronics store and purchase one.

You'll need an electric stove as a source of heat. A gas stove won't work for this project, so consider using either a hot plate or even a propane torch as your source of heat.

Each solar cell will be created from one piece of copper flashing. Visit your local hardware store for copper flashing. Cut pieces from the flashing to fit the size of your heat source if you are using a stove or hot plate. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is roughly 2 feet by 1 foot in dimension. Metal shears or tin snips are the best tool for cutting copper.

Preparing to Build a Solar Cell

Wash, dry, and sand down each piece of copper before placing it directly onto the burner of the stove. The sandpaper will remove any dirt or other substance that might not have come off during the washing process. Your hands should be clean and dry as well. Otherwise, residual oils from your hands could transfer over to the copper, rendering it useless for transforming it into a solar cell.

Once the copper flashing is on the burner of the stove, turn the temperature up to the highest setting possible to begin heating the copper. Don't be surprised to see the copper turning several different colors as it heats; this is good. Continue heating until the copper turns jet black. At this point, set a timer for 30 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on it as it "cooks" as you're working with hot temperatures.

You'll notice after 30 minutes of heat that the copper flashing has smaller dimensions and the black coating that formed is beginning to flake. Allow the copper to cool down completely after turning off the burner. This can take as little as 20 minutes, but possibly up to 40 minutes. Once it is cool, remove any remaining black flakes. Be careful not to disturb or remove the red layer.

Build a Solar Cell - Instructions

Cut another piece of copper flashing identical to the size you just heated. Gently bend both pieces of copper so they will fit inside a wide mouth glass jar. Don't allow the two pieces to touch each other.

Attach one alligator clip to each of the copper pieces inside the jar. Now, connect the clip attached to the clean copper flashing to the positive side of the micro-ammeter. The second clip attached to the copper flashing that was just heated should be connected to the negative side of the micro-ammeter.

Mix up to 2 Tablespoons salt with hot water, stirring until the salt dissolves. Pour the salt mixture into the jar, filling it until it's 1 inch below the top of the copper. Do your best to keep the alligator clips dry. Place the whole assembly into direct sunlight.

Voila, you have a solar cell! Note the reading on the micro-ammeter to see how much energy is being produced. Thirty-six cells will create about 60 watts of electricity. One solar panel with 36 solar cells will be less than $100 to build at home. The cost of a single solar cell = $2.78 approximately.

Benefits of DIY Solar Cells

  • Investment in materials is less than buying already made
  • Materials are readily available
  • Tax rebates from the government
  • Reduce electricity costs
  • Can be fun and a good learning experience

Drawbacks of Building Solar Cells at Home

  • Time consuming
  • Electricity savings aren't immediate
  • Efficiency of your DIY solar cells may vary
  • You may have difficulty getting help with questions or problems you encounter.
  • Depending on your home electrica system, you may discover more complex electrical wiring issues that you may need professional help with.

How Much Time Does It Take?

If you are generally handy and have done other DIY projects or DIY solar power, plan for 1-1/2 hours to build a solar cell. If you are brand new to these kinds of home projects, it may take a little longer to find your way around the different tools that are required.

Resources for Building a Solar Cell

A few rare peopleSome people have that magic touch, where they can build things from scratch with hardly any instruction. If you're not one of those gifted individuals (I'm not either!!) then you may appreciate a little more guidance.

There are several enterprising young DIY solar enthusiasts that have created useful and regularly updated online guides, complete with videos as well as illustrations and step by step instructions. The best of them is the Green DIY Energy which provides a full video training series that provides detailed, step by step training and excellent, personalized customer support for all your questions.

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